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Win or lose, Donald Trump netted more voters in 2020 than in 2016. Here's why

Here’s a look at the many voters who are drawn to Trump’s rhetoric and policies.

Donald Trump smiles at supporters after a rally in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
Donald Trump smiles at supporters after a rally in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
Image: Evan Vucci via PA Images

MOST POLITICAL COMMENTATORS ahead of Tuesday’s voting in the US Presidential Election agreed there were three possible permutations when looking at conventional wisdom, polling and analysis.

  • Trump winning Florida, Arizona and North Carolina quickly, leading to an inevitable re-election.
  • A comfortable Biden win because states like Georgia and Florida turned blue decisively and early in the count.
  • A drawn-out count because results from the Midwestern states of Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin were needed to separate the candidates. 

Even still, a lot of people (particularly outside of the United States) may look at the red and blue electoral map and ask themselves why it appears, with seven more states to declare, to be so close.

The headline national polls had suggested Biden was ahead, and many presumed pollsters had learned lessons and their work would be dead-on accurate. However, it is often the analysis of polling that is the problem, even if the figures are within a margin of error. 

Commentators had suggested the three narratives above – but many just believed one of them. 

Therefore, today many progressives could wonder how people are still voting for Donald Trump in significant (record-breaking) numbers; while more conservative voters won’t be surprised at the current state of play.

The reason why we’re focusing on explaining the Trump vote here is because one thing is clear from the US election – the United States is thoroughly divided. This election was more about the Trump presidency than a potential Biden one. 

Democrats see Trump’s presidency as having been dogged by controversy from start to finish: with accusations of sexual assault and racism, impeachment charges, and questions over Trump’s handling of the Covid-19 pandemic.

So for many, this result – even if Biden wins – is incomprehensible. 

Meanwhile, Trump supporters see him as the only person who they feel represents their views and has the same vision for the US that they do.

The electoral college system has a role to play too – all of the electoral votes in one state go to a candidate who wins 52-48, to use the Brexit vote breakdown. (The Electoral College tally as it stands puts Biden slightly ahead of Trump).

But there are more fundamental reasons why Trump has won an extra 4 million votes than in 2016, and the support of 48% of US voters so far (although there’s a good bit of counting left to go.) Here’s a look at those. 

election-2020 Trump supporters place their hands over their hearts during their National Anthem at an Oklahoma Republican Party gathering. Source: Ian Maule via PA Images

US citizens don’t understand one another

“America didn’t speak, two Americas spoke,” Mark Little, a former journalist and founder of Storyful said on RTÉ Radio One this morning.

Looking at the results of the US election, you’ll see that in general US cities and suburbs are coloured blue for the Democrat candidate, while the surrounding rural areas are coloured red for the Republican candidate. 

In the run up to the election, there have been illuminating interviews with voters about why they were voting for either candidate. Here is a flavour that might clarify why people vote for Trump, despite some concerns about him:

The Guardian’s Today in Focus podcast spoke to Bo Copley in West Virginia, who lost his job in a coalmine before 2016 and credits Trump with reinvigorating his industry – he’s now back in a job for the first time in years.

During the 2016 campaign, he asked Hilary Clinton how she could both promise to put coal miners out of jobs at a rally days before, and also ‘pretend to be our friend’. She didn’t seem to have an answer, and despite concerns about Trump, voted for him in both presidential elections.

Andrea Zupancich, a mayor in Minneapolis and a former Obama voter, explains in the same podcast episode that her support for Trump has strengthened because the line he’s taken on China has protected jobs domestically from cheap produce being imported:

I don’t necessarily agree with everything Trump has done, but I agree with the majority of what he’s done. Just like any other person, I don’t always agree with my best friend – but she’s still my friend. 

In Vox’s Today Explained podcast, voters who are leaning towards Trump said that his emphasis on the important work that farmers do is something they haven’t heard from Democrats.

election-2020-trump A live broadcast of President Donald Trump speaking from the White House. Source: AP/PA Images

Here’s another snippet from The Atlantic, which held 50 focus groups with Trump voters to understand their loyalty to the New Yorker:

…During the focus groups I convened throughout Trump’s impeachment, few of the women had anything nice to say about Trump’s actions. But their real contempt was reserved for Democrats and ‘the media’, whom they viewed as unnecessarily adversarial to Trump. And the plain fact is that they were unwilling to give much weight to an argument about the rule of law and abuse of power, because it didn’t have a visible impact on their lives.

Alice Butler-Short of ‘Women for Trump’ in Virginia said on RTE Radio One that she was dismayed at the “negative negative negative” media coverage of the election results so far, and the “cult of personality” label for Trump.

She said that Trump supporters are not stupid, and are “down-to-earth people who love this country and love the fact that he loves the country”.

In an interview last night, former Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway said that there was a huge variety of issues that lead to people voting the way they do:

“Hispanics care about far more than immigration, that is important but they also care about many other issues. Seniors care more about just healthcare, and women care about more than just abortion.

“I think voters reminded us all that we throw into our voter cauldron many different issues, ideas, images and individuals… and then we make our choice.”

We’re in a “50-50″ United States of America, as one commentator put it this morning. 

It’s the economy, stupid

In a Gallup survey, 56% of Americans at the tail end of the 2020 campaign reported being satisfied with the way Joe Biden’s campaign has been conducted, while 46% say the same about Trump’s campaign. That Trump percentage is remarkably high for an incumbent.

The reason for that satisfaction may be in this CNN exit poll.

El7rIt4WkAcIS7n Source: CNN exit poll

It showed that the economy was the main reason why 34% of people voted. On this front, Trump is seen to have performed well – presiding over an era of steady GDP growth.

21% said that racial inequality was the most important issue to their vote, 11% said that crime/safety was most important, and 11% said healthcare was most important. 

The coronavirus pandemic wasn’t too much of a concern either, according to the exit poll, with 18% saying that was the most important issue. 48% said that US efforts to contain the virus are going “well”, versus 51% who said it was going “badly”.

A case study: Florida’s Latin Americans

Trump’s significant win in Florida is not entirely surprising, and much to do with his support among Latino men and his denunciation of leftist governments in Latin America.

In Florida, this demographic is led by Cubans who loathe the communist government in Havana, against which Trump adopted a hard line during his presidency and presidential campaign.

election-2020-florida Supporters of President Donald Trump gather for a rally ahead of the start of a car caravan by hundreds of cars, at Tropical Park in Miami. Source: Rebecca Blackwell

The high-profile swing state was seen as critical to Trump’s reelection: the general analysis of why Trump won Florida is because of his anti-communist rhetoric and also because of his popularity among rural white voters, experts said.

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“The Democrats lost the Hispanic vote. Not just among the Cubans. Also the Venezuelans, Argentines, Bolivians, Colombians. They are all pro-Trump here,” said Eduardo Gamarra, a professor of political science at Florida International University.

A New York Times/Siena College poll found that Biden leads by 34 percentage points among Latina voters – but with Latino men, his lead is reduced to 8 points.

Anti-racism protests that swept America after the police killing of George Floyd in May did not persuade Florida Latinos to vote for Biden – who unlike Trump supports the Black Lives Matter movement – as they do not identify with Black voters in the US, Gamarra said.

South Americans living in Florida tend to come from the middle and upper class in their home countries, he added.

But Latinos in the rest of the country have a different image of themselves because of their social origin, and are more committed to the debate on civil rights.

New York Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez tweeted last night that “we’ve been sounding the alarm about Dem vulnerabilities w/ Latinos for a long, long time”.

A piece from The Atlantic entitled ‘What Liberals Don’t Understand About Pro-Trump Latinos’ explains the reason why they are staunchly in favour of the businessman.

“We take pride in being self-sufficient. We don’t want a permanent handout,” Barbara Carrasco, a businesswoman from El Paso. “President Trump really wants everybody to have an opportunity to succeed.”

As one voter said (paraphrased): “He can build the wall if he wants, I’m already on this side.”

With reporting from AFP

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